Date: 20 Sept. 2009

Xiao Wunan: On China’s New Diplomatic Thinking in Light of the Recent Situation in Burma

In September 2009, the situation in Burma changed dramatically, and the Chinese Government seemed to be at its wit’s end, revealing its dilemmas in diplomacy: political conflicts, unremitting crises, and lack of long-term strategies.

It is well known that the Strait of Malacca is an energy resource lifeline for China. In order to break through this strategic pass, China has developed important energy strategies in Burma, which will be hit heavily if the current situation gets out of control. To support the Burmese military government, a rogue regime, is not only a loss of morality and justice, but also a potential hazard. It’s easy to understand: Can a government who takes no responsibility for its own people or the international community be kind to China? A bigger issue is that the regime is doomed to be short-lived. China should waste no time and give support to a neutral, internationally accepted regime, which at the same time secretly supports China. If not, this territory will, sooner or later, be surrendered to the western world. Therefore, China should be resolute: either intervention or perform “surgery” on the current government. Otherwise, there will be endless trouble in the future.

Likewise, the problem of the Korean Peninsula has also come to a crossroad. If North Korea keeps provoking the international community or directly making deals with the US, China will be placed in an awkward and disadvantaged position. With regard to the Korean Issue, China already suffered a great loss when dragged into the Korean War by Kim II-Sung. Because of this, China lost the best time to solve the Taiwan Issue and became enemies with the US. As a result, the development of the whole country was pulled down. There are two reasons why China is always in an unfavorable position on international hot issues: first, China lacks careful consideration of the big picture; second, China still follows the established yet outdated diplomatic route of “non-interference in internal affairs”.

Source of the Problem: Weak Nation Psychology is at Work.

Over the 30 years of reform and opening up, China has implemented the foreign policy of "keep a low profile yet make progress", never taking the lead in the international community. If the merits and demerits of this diplomatic strategy are half-and-half, then the implementation of the realist “no permanent friends, only permanent interests” in diplomacy seems to be most short-sighted. Over the past years, China has established political relations with other countries. Yet almost all of them came together for interests of their own and turned against each other when their interests clashed. On the contrary, the US has been creating an “American Dream” pursued by everyone in the world since last century. The US is the first to export value, spirit, and ideal. In this way, the US expands its power with great ease.

What about China? Once problems occur between China and the US, China will make tens of billions of RMB’s worth of purchases from the US or increase shares of American debt, willingly taking the bad end of the bargain. The American people see China the way they look at a poor man who suddenly got rich. This shakes the basis of the two nations’ relationship—identification with same values. In contrast, since 1949, Taiwan used flexible means and applied cultural and religious power to affect the political tendency of several generations, such as setting up the Hoover Center with Stanford University and cooperating with think-tanks in Washington.

The greatest feature of China’s realistic diplomatic route is to win over several leaders or the party in power, but neglect the condition and will of ordinary people that make the situation full of changes. Sino-Japanese relations are a good example. We made great efforts to deal with the Prime Minister in charge, but it proved a waste of diplomatic resources because prime ministers in Japan are changed constantly. Most of China’s strategies of handling multi-lateral or bilateral relations result in a mess.

The essence of these problems is weak nation psychology. The reason why China pursues “non-interference in internal affairs” in its diplomatic route is fear that western countries will overthrow its regime.

Today, China has become a superpower and almost nothing can destroy it. Hence the mask of “non-interference in internal affairs” is no longer necessary. In the face of a chaotic world full of changes, all human beings are on the same boat. No single country can handle the world’s problems on its own. Problems of one country have gone beyond boundaries of region, ethnicity, and religion, and are influencing the world. So we cannot continue to stick to the “sovereignty above all” principle. Otherwise, it will become a confinement. Last year, a Maoist was elected to take office in Nepal, which was a good opportunity for China to deal with such problems as South Asia issues and the Tibetan Secessionist Issue. But China came up with a “non-interference in internal affairs” stance and offered no support. As a result, Prachanda stepped down. We lost this important strategic barrier.

China has always regarded the Tibetan problem, the Taiwan issue, and the Xinjiang issue as internal affairs. But when Chinese leaders meet foreign officials, they tend to thank the foreigners’ declared positions on these issues, admitting inferiority at the very beginning as if asking for a favor. Since these issues are internal affairs, it is unnecessary to talk about them with foreign officials. China should be resolute in refusing to bargain with other countries over these issues. Some small countries seeking benefits will use these issues to trick China, while other bigger, hostile countries will use them as political leverage in the international arena.


Highlighting Humanity Spirit, Initiating Diplomatic New Thinking

Firstly, China should make its way from realism to idealism, and make the core value of its diplomacy the promotion of splendid Chinese culture and the future mission to human kind.

There’s an evaluation about Chinese civilization in the preface of World History written by L·S·Stavrianos: “the great civilization that never produced a priestly class possesses unique realism.” This unique realism caused Chinese people to adopt a super pragmatist attitude when they handle international affairs. China could have dominated the world in history (Chinggis Khaan period excluded), and could have made greater contributions to the world, but opportunities were lost again and again. As predicted by Buddha: the world is coming to the Age of Dharma Decline, and can only be saved by oriental wisdom—the wisdom of Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, and Zhuangzi. It is the real responsibility and obligation of the Chinese nation to apply the philosophy of “Confucianism for governance, Buddhism for mentality, Taoism for self-cultivation” and the view of “Taoism is the rule of Nature, Man and Nature is one” to find the root of human pains and solutions to them. This is also what Chinese diplomacy should achieve. During the World Exposition 2005 in Aichi, Japan, the Japanese press complained that although the Chinese Pavilion was the largest, it was only selling commodities, unbefitting of a great country. On the contrary, when people entered the Indian Pavilion, they saw the banner with the words “India --- an ancient nation’s philosophical contribution to the world”. And take a look at the theme of the Aichi Exposition--“Love Aichi, Love the world”. Almost all the Japanese Pavilions were showing their concern for and their determination to explore the environment and the future of the human race. The slogan of the Shanghai World Exposition is, however, “better city, better life”. Isn’t it shameful?

Secondly, we need to pay attention to researching the sentiments and will of the people.

In China’s Temple of Marquis in Chengdu, there is a pair of famous antithetical couplets, which say “Those who really know about military strategies can read the minds of his enemies and attack them mentally. Only this way can the enemy be convinced to cease hostility. If one does not have a good grasp of the situation, he cannot make a sound and correct decision on whether to be loose or strict.” These couplets indicate that attacking the mind is the essence of Chinese wisdom. Present Chinese foreign policy almost ignores the sentiment and will of the people. We don’t need to damage our national image for some notorious regimes. We don’t have to care about whether the leaders of “democratic” countries such as France, Germany, and Japan meet Dalai Lama or not, or whether the Japanese politicians visit the Yasukuni war shrine or not. If we analyze people’s will in those countries and election situations, we can come to a general conclusion on their foreign policy. At the same time, China should try to open up a little bit by inviting some foreign poll organizations to come to China. The poll results on important issues such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, South China Sea, and the Diaoyu Island may well prove to be favorable to the Chinese government and highly consistent with the policies it has been pursuing. China spared no effort to hold the Olympic Games and shortly afterwards invested a lot of money to set up a publicity platform, so as to create a good national image. But this can’t rely on Great Leap Forward styleexternal efforts. This must be built up gradually by hard work, a firm stance, and responsibility. The essence is to win the hearts of people all over the world.

Thirdly, expand reasonably and have a clear-cut range of core interests.

First of all, it’s necessary to tell friends from foes. The European Union (EU) is a natural friend of China. There are no conflicts of fundamental interests between them, whether in terms of geopolitics or in terms of economic complementation and cultural identity. On the contrary, they gain long-term and mutual benefits from each other.

Over the past 20 years, the US has been the most strategic partner of China. The two countries are entangled in too many complicated disputes of interest. They need to cooperate with each other, promote the development of clean energy, deal with grave eco-disasters that human beings are facing, and restructure the new political and economic world order. Perhaps in 20 years, the US will come to an end due to its deficit spending. Perhaps it will be as chairman Mao predicted—American Imperialism will perish soon. After that, China and the EU will dominate the world.

The core interests of China also rest in Southeast Asia. Judging from historical, cultural, geopolitical, and pragmatic perspectives, China should firmly grasp this region. Just the resources in this region are enough to support the future development of China. Meanwhile, this area has been under the influence of Chinese culture over a long period of time. People there are deeply entrenched in Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. The local Chinese are very patriotic. They showed great passion and support for China, whether in the Revolution of 1911 or in any of the critical events afterwards. When Zheng He led his expedition to the Indian Ocean, he made the big mistake of not including Southeast Asia into the territory of China, resulting in the present South China Sea Crisis. For the long-term interests of China and stability of the world, China should make a clear declaration that Southeast Asia is an area of core interests to China, and no foreign forces should get involved or intervene in the region. At present, China needs to amplify the influence of its culture, religion, and economy. Only through this harmonious wisdom can China achieve reasonable expansion. To this end, China should give up getting involved in two areas: one is Africa, which is the backyard of France and territory of the EU; the other is Central and South America, which is the US’s traditional sphere of influence. It is not a good idea for China to expand its influence in these regions because it could arouse suspicion and resentment, which may result in other countries intervening in the South China Issue together with Russia, India, and Japan. Or they might pursue a policy of containing and bashing China over issues relevant to China’s major interests.

In the preface of the Chinese version of What Makes You a Buddhist, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche said “It is such a pity that the very pragmatic Chinese chose Confucianism over Buddhism and Taoism as their ruling guidance for centuries, except for several dynasties that did not last long. I am sure that the Chinese people will embrace Buddhism again if they realize the long-term interests of wisdom. After all, China is a nation that has deep origin with Manjusri and Avalokitecvara (two Buddhas).” Manjusri represents wisdom and Avalokitecvara mercy. Now that China is chosen by history to be responsible for the human race’s future, let’s welcome the arrival of a new world with Chinese civilization!